Written by: Anonymous
Image: Sunghwan Yoon / Flickr
The armed clashes erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia last year over the disputed status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that was internationally recognized as Azerbaijan but had been run by ethnic Armenians since 1994. This war ended with a peace agreement that halted the Azerbaijani offensive and significantly reduced the size of the Armenian control. While the war itself didn’t last long, these two countries remain deeply divided despite international efforts of peaceful coexistence.
This interview invites an Azerbaijani student currently studying in Canada (anonymous), who agrees to share their personal reactions to the conflict as well as their experiences with its subsequent impact.
Q: Could you briefly describe the context behind the conflict?
A: The existing conflict dates back to 1993 when Armenia attempted to annex its self-governing territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh region predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians. This resulted in outflow of more than 1 million Azerbaijani IDPs living in the region. Russia especially played an important role during this war: they historically endorsed this ethnic Armenian group because relocating the Christian population in the Muslim country was its political strategy. Over the past 30 years, peaceful resolutions have been negotiated, sometimes under U.N. guidance, but unfortunately, the new war broke out between these two parties last year and lasted 44 days.
Q: Why were the decades-long negotiations not successful?
A: I can only speak from the Azerbaijani point of view, but at least, Azerbaijan always stated that we are ready to offer Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region the highest status of autonomy. However, it has become clear that Armenia’s objective was not to gain the status but rather annex Azerbaijan’s territory to Armenia. In fact, their current president Pashinian said in 2019, “Karabakh is Armenia and full stop.” That was the end of negotiations.
Q. You previously mentioned Russia’s political interest, but it seems that the conflict has received special attention from its neighboring countries. Could you explain the conflict’s geopolitical significance?
A: Azerbaijan is in the middle of geopolitical interests, surrounded by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Turkey has economic interests in the region, which helps attract investment and open transport links. On the contrary, Iran’s main interest is to prevent the spread of nationalistic ideas to what we call the South Azerbaijan. While this region is populated by more than 35 million Azerbaijanians, it has been a part of Iran since 1828, when the war between the Russian and Persian Empires separated this territory from Azerbaijan.
Q: What’s the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh?
A: Although some land has returned to Azerbaijan since then, we still have to clean up explosives and mines there. So, it will take more time and effort to relocate internally displaced people back to their land. Currently, Russian and Turkish peacekeepers are operating in the region. It is now time to learn how to build our future and restore peaceful neighborhood relationships.
Q: What’s your stance on the peaceful coexistence of Armenians and Azerbaijanians?
A: Azerbaijan always states it’s prepared to provide autonomy to the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh, so there is no objective of ethnic cleansing, unlike what Armenians did to Azerbaijanians during the previous war. Indeed, this promise was included in the peace agreement signed last November, which envisioned the return of both Armenians and Azerbaijanians to Karabakh. While 1 million Azerbaijanians are still waiting to return, more than 50 thousand Armenian people already returned to their homes in Karabakh.
Q: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict gained significant media coverage even after the war ended. What are some struggles you faced as an international student due to increasing attention from the international community?
A: Having observed my Canadian peers, I feel that the Western media is biased toward the Armenian community. I suspect it’s because the Armenian expatriate communities are influential in Canada, just like in other Western countries. Nevertheless, having to tolerate such biased media coverage is frustrating.
Q: Under such an environment, is there anything you would like to tell your peers?
A: I want people to be more critical about their views and what they consume. Checking liability and bias in each source is the first step we should all take. I think the youth is more prone to be influenced by media bias because they regularly learn and share new stories through social media. Another thing I want to tell the international community is that there is still hope for both Armenia and Azerbaijan—we both want to be good neighbours. To achieve peace, we have to focus on similarities and change our previous mindset. War is not the solution.